Long and Short Reviews is pleased to welcome Larry Peterson, who is visiting with us as part of his blog tour to celebrate the release of his new YA book, The Priest and the Peaches, a historical novel set in the Bronx in the 1960s. It follows a seven-day journey of the newly orphaned Peach kids as they begin their struggle to remain together as a family. Led by the oldest, Teddy—who is 18—they discover they have no money, the rent and utilities are past due, and they must plan their father's funeral. The ever-intrusive Beatrice Amon is determined to get the younger boys into a properly supervised environment. Their unexpected circumstances leave them in a world they were not ready for. They do find an ally in the local parish priest, Father Tim Sullivan, who tries his best to guide them through the strange, unchartered and turbulent waters of a grown-up world.
Larry is originally from the Bronx, so the setting of the story came easily for him. I asked him what he liked best about his hometown.
"There is really no other place like it. When you are growing up there, you don’t realize it. It’s home. It’s the way it is. But when you grow up and sort of peek in from the outside you realize what an incredible city it is. The different people, ethnicity, cultural differences, all blending together. Millions of folks
crammed into subways and buses every day , insane traffic jams and, although it is far from perfect, when stuff happens , like 9/11 and the Great Blackout of 1965, New Yorkers join together and help each other and give of themselves. It’s a beautiful thing."
He has lived in Pinellas Park, Florida, for the past thirty years. He and his wife have a two bedroom home (his kids and grandkids live nearby, but not with them), and he's converted one bedroom into an office. He has a file cabinet at each end of the long window wall. He bought a ten-foot kitchen counter top with a backsplash and set it between the file cabinets, making a work area. The counter has two computer stands below it.
"I have the monitors and office supplies on the counter and there is a small desk on my right. Papers are strewn all over the place and my poor wife, a quite orderly person, cringes when she peeks in," he admitted. "It is OK---I know where everything is. I’m lovin' my little world."
Larry gets up between 5:30 and 6 every morning, makes coffee, showers, boots up the computer, then checks and cleans up messages. He goes to 7 AM Mass and is home by 7:40. In the perfect world, he tries to write for four or five hours.
"There are distractions that you must attend to," he explained. "For example, I am in the middle of a three month virtual book tour. It is necessary and takes a lot of time. But I am loving it and an unexpected perk has come from it. Answering so many questions about so many different things has helped me to know myself better, not only as a writer but as a person also. The fact is, I appreciate having this interview to do. It expands me for me."
When Larry's not writing, he's very involved with The St. Vincent de Paul Society. He's been a member for almost twenty years and works with the poor and homeless. He's also been recruited and is returning to coaching youth baseball. He and his son have taken on a team of six and seven year olds.
"When did you first consider yourself a writer?" I wondered.
"Since the novel has been released and has received some awesome reviews I am close to believing I am a writer. I never really thought I was any good at it. Mediocre at best. But when people in the business who do not know you give KUDOS to your work it is humbling and also tells you your work is OK. So, I guess that does make me a writer. Now, ain’t that the cat’s pajamas.. Thanks for asking this question. You helped me finally figure it out."
I asked him what inspired him to write.
"My answer has to be nothing. I just liked doing it. Even as a kid I enjoyed writing stories. I remember kids in school who loved to draw. They just were good at it and liked doing it. What was their inspiration? I guess it was the enjoyment they received from doing it. That leads me to have to retract my nothing answer. I guess many of us, depending on what we discover we like to do, inspire ourselves. That leads us onward to see what others might do in the same area and that results in further inspiration. I guess that’s how it works. "
When he moved to Florida after being diagnosed with MS, he went to college and then started freelancing. One of his jobs was as a columnist for the Pinellas Park News. He met Judson Bailey, the editor/publisher, and he gave Larry the best advice he ever got about writing.
"He had worked for the AP for many years and his home base had been NYC. He was quite the character. He had a huge mane of white hair and huge white eyebrows. He wore a white cowboy hat and always seemed to have his feet propped up on his desk, his red-cowboy boots with the silver,
metal tips staring at you. He also smoked a corn-cob pipe. I am not making this up," he assured me. "Anyway, he liked my work (most of it was tongue-in-cheek stuff about family and also satire). I wrote a column a week and he never edited anything. But he said to me, 'Petie,' (he called me Petie) 'always be yourself. You have a unique way of saying things. Don’t let anyone change you.' I never forgot that."
I asked Larry how he came up with the titles to his books.
"I think it is a metamorphosis. My first book, Slippery Willie’s Stupid, Ugly Shoes was originally Willie Wiggles. It morphed into Little Willie Wiggles and, by the time it was published, it was Slippery Willie's Stupid, Ugly Shoes. The Priest and The Peaches went through the same process. It was A Bronx Funeral and The Best Damn Funeral Ever. Once the priest, Father Sullivan, appeared and became a primary character it became The Priest and The Peaches."
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They find an ally in the local parish priest, Father Tim Sullivan, who tries his best to guide them through the strange, unchartered and turbulent waters of "grown-up world." A story that is sad, funny, and inspiring as it shows how the power of family love and faith can overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles.